Medical Transcriptionists

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Medical Transcriptionists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Medical transcriptionists, sometimes referred to as healthcare documentation specialists, listen to voice recordings that physicians and other healthcare workers make and convert them into written reports. They also may review and edit medical documents created using speech recognition technology. Transcriptionists interpret medical terminology and abbreviations in preparing patients’ medical histories, discharge summaries, and other documents.

Duties of Medical Transcriptionists

Medical transcriptionists typically do the following:

  • Listen to the recorded dictation of a doctor or other healthcare worker
  • Transcribe and interpret the dictation into diagnostic test results, operative reports, referral letters, and other documents
  • Review and edit drafts prepared by speech recognition software, making sure that the transcription is correct, complete, and consistent in style
  • Translate medical abbreviations and jargon into the appropriate long form
  • Identify inconsistencies, errors, and missing information within a report that could compromise patient care
  • Follow up with the healthcare provider to ensure the accuracy of the reports
  • Submit health records for physicians to approve
  • Follow patient confidentiality guidelines and legal documentation requirements
  • Enter medical reports into electronic health records (EHR) systems
  • Perform quality improvement audits

Traditionally, medical transcriptionists used audio playback equipment or software that is connected to their computer. However, technological advances have changed the way medical transcription is done. In the past, medical transcriptionists would listen to an entire dictation to produce a transcribed report. While many transcriptionists still perform these traditional transcription services, others are taking on additional roles. Today, many medical documents are prepared with the use of speech recognition technology, in which specialized software automatically prepares an initial draft of a report. The transcriptionist then reviews the draft for accuracy, identifying any errors and editing the report, when necessary. They use word-processing and other specialized software, as well as medical reference materials, as needed.

To do their work, medical transcriptionists must become familiar with medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, diagnostic procedures, pharmacology, and treatment assessments. Their ability to understand what the healthcare worker has recorded, correctly transcribe that information, and identify any inaccuracies in the transcript is critical to reducing the chance that patients will get ineffective or even harmful treatments.

Transcriptionists may need to be familiar with EHR systems. They may create templates, help develop documentation policies, and train physicians on how to use EHR systems.

Medical transcriptionists who work in doctors’ offices may have other duties, such as answering phones and greeting patients.

Work Environment for Medical Transcriptionists[About this section] [To Top]

Medical transcriptionists hold about 70,000 jobs. The industries that employ the most medical transcriptionists are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 32%
Offices of physicians 23
Administrative and support services 21

About 1 out of 10 medical transcriptionists are self-employed.

Most medical transcriptionists work for hospitals or in physicians' offices. Some work for companies that provide transcription services to healthcare establishments.

Many transcriptionists work from home offices, receiving dictation and submitting drafts electronically.

Medical Transcriptionist Work Schedules

Most medical transcriptionists work full time, although about one-fourth work part time. Medical transcriptionists who work from home may work outside typical business hours and may have some flexibility in determining their schedules.

How to Become a Medical Transcriptionist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Medical Transcriptionists near you!

Medical transcriptionists typically need postsecondary education. Prospective medical transcriptionists must have an understanding of medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, grammar, and word-processing software.

Medical Transcriptionist Education

Employers prefer to hire transcriptionists who have completed postsecondary education in medical transcription, which is offered by vocational schools, community colleges, and distance-learning programs. Medical transcription programs are typically 1-year certificate programs, although there are also associate’s degree programs.

Programs normally include coursework in anatomy, medical terminology, risk management, legal issues relating to healthcare documentation, and English grammar and punctuation. Many of these programs include supervised on-the-job experience. Some transcriptionists, especially those already familiar with medical terminology from previous experience as a nurse or medical secretary, become proficient through refresher courses and training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although certification is not required, some medical transcriptionists choose to become certified. The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity offers the Registered Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS) and the Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (CHDS) certifications. Both certifications require passing an exam and periodic retesting or continuing education.

The RHDS certification, formerly known as the Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT), is for recent graduates with less than 2 years of experience and who work in a single specialty environment, such as a clinic or a doctor’s office.

The CHDS certification, formerly known as the Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT), is for transcriptionists who have at least 2 years of experience and those who handle dictation in several medical specialties.

Important Qualities for Medical Transcriptionists

Computer skills. Medical transcriptionists must be comfortable using computers and word-processing software, because those tools are an essential part of their jobs. Transcriptionists also may need to know how to operate electronic health records (EHR) systems.

Critical-thinking skills. Transcriptionists must be able to assess medical reports and spot any inaccuracies and inconsistencies in finished drafts. They must also be able to think critically when doing research to find the information that they need and to ensure that sources are both accurate and reliable.

Listening skills. Transcriptionists must listen carefully to dictation from physicians. They must be able to hear and interpret the intended meaning of the medical report.

Time-management skills. Because dictation must be done quickly, medical transcriptionists must be comfortable working under short deadlines.

Writing skills. Medical transcriptionists need a good understanding of the English language and grammar.

Medical Transcriptionist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for medical transcriptionists is $34,890. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,230.

The median annual wages for medical transcriptionists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $37,320
Offices of physicians 35,240
Administrative and support services 29,740

Some medical transcriptionists are paid based on the volume of transcription they produce. Others are paid an hourly rate or an annual salary.

Most medical transcriptionists work full time, although about one-fourth work part time. Medical transcriptionists who work from home may work outside typical business hours and/or have some flexibility in determining their schedules.

Job Outlook for Medical Transcriptionists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of medical transcriptionists is projected to decline 3 percent over the next ten years. Technological advances have changed the way medical transcription is done. Fewer transcriptionists are projected to be needed as speech recognition software and other technological advances make transcriptionists more productive.

The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. The increasing volume of healthcare services will result in a growing number of medical tests and procedures, all of which will require transcription.

However, technological advances such as speech recognition software allow transcriptions to be prepared using fewer medical transcriptionists. And as healthcare providers seek to cut costs, some have hired transcription services to do transcriptions rather than do them in house. Some of those services are being contracted out to other countries which hampers employment growth domestically.

Medical Transcriptionists Job Prospects

Prospects should be better for transcriptionists with formal education and for those with experience in electronic health records (EHR) management, training, and quality assessment. Job opportunities will stem from transcriptionists who retire over the next decade, creating opportunities for new transcriptionists.

Employment projections data for Medical Transcriptionists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Medical transcriptionists 70,000 67,800 -3 -2,200

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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